Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs and House Minority Leader Eric Meyer will discuss legislative issues from the perspective of Democrats at the State Capitol.
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Ted Simons: Each month during the legislative session we hear from the state legislature's majority and minority leadership. The Senate President and speaker of the House are set to join us Wednesday. Tonight we welcome Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs and House Minority Leader Eric Meyer. Good to see you both back, thanks for joining us.
Eric Meyer: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Let's start with general terms, the impact with Democrats so far this session. What's going on down there?
Katie Hobbs: We're trying to stop some bad bills and we've been successful a couple of times. We'll see what happens when the budget comes around. We haven't started looking at that yet.
Ted Simons: As far as impacting and stopping bad bills, more than last session?
Katie Hobbs: The flow has been slow so we haven't seen as many bad bills on the floor yet.
Ted Simons: Sounds like not many bills at all right now, that is true?
Katie Hobbs: They are all in committee this week. This is the last week to hear senate bills in Senate committees. We'll get more next week, I'm sure.
Ted Simons: Same in the House?
Eric Meyer: It's been an interesting dynamic because Everything waited until the Super Bowl left town. And now this is the last week to hear bills in the House. All of a sudden or committees are packed with bills, some of them don't seem to make much sense to me but they are moving. And on the other hand we are going to be tackling some pretty serious issues like in health committee for me tomorrow.
Ted Simons: Is there a Democratic agenda? We'll start with the House. Is there an agenda? Again, because we realize, you guys just don't have the power right now. Can you have an agenda without the power?
Eric Meyer: Absolutely, absolutely! You know, if you look back the last few years we've been pretty successful because we had bipartisan solutions to Medicaid expansion, the budget two years ago, and last year on the budget negotiations. Our bills tend to move a little later than the Republicans' but our bills are starting to move through committee now. Our agenda is absolutely to fund our schools, both at the K-12 and University level. The Governor has huge cuts in his budget to education and we're United in opposition to that. Funding the inflation funding lawsuit, the $330 million a year our voters have approved and that our schools and kids need to be successful, is another. And then job creation. We're looking at those bills that will have an impact on bringing jobs to our state.
Ted Simons: Again, as far as the Senate is concerned is there a specific particular agenda, overriding agenda? And how far along is that agenda?
Katie Hobbs: Yeah, I would echo was Eric said really, it's about our schools and funding education. I think that's what Arizonans want. Unfortunately we're not seeing that from the majority at all.
Ted Simons: So what are you doing about that?
Katie Hobbs: We're talking to folks and making sure that Arizona knows that Governor Ducey's budget underfunds education. There's not new money for the classrooms he's shortchanging our settlement on what the state owes them from the settlement lawsuit.
Ted Simons: As far as the state is concerned right now the big brouhaha is between the Governor and the superintendent of education. Your thoughts.
Katie Hobbs: I think it distracts from what's really important. We have major issues facing our state, particularly in the arena of education. I think it's unfortunate, because it's a distraction and takes attention away from where it really needs to be.
Ted Simons: First of all, the fight, and secondly, who's right and who's wrong.
Eric Meyer: Great question. It is unfortunate this is playing out at the top levels of government in our state. Our goal should be to stay off late-night TV and this is getting us back there again. I think it was wrong for Diane Douglas to fire those employees. On the flip side, she may be upset about the cards she has been dealt by the governor. If she truly believes in making our state a better place for our kids to be educated, we need to invest in education and this governor isn't doing that. I think that fight Going to continue unless something changes.
Ted Simons: Do you think she wants the legislature to clarify who actually runs that board and who has the decision-making process over the board? Are you ready to help her figure that out?
Eric Meyer: No, I don't think that'll happen at the legislative level. That isn't our job. If they are going fight it out in the courts in that branch of government, and we'll see what they potentially decide. My hope is they can come to an agreement and move past this and begin to focus on the things that are important to Arizonans out there, rather than fighting.
Ted Simons: But why wouldn't it be your job? If it does help clarify the situation and keeps the fighting to a lower level, why not go ahead and try and find a statutory way of getting this done?
Katie Hobbs: Yeah, I think there is some conflict in the two different statutes cited. It's potentially a legislative fix for that, but honestly, we shouldn't have to be spending our time doing that. We should be able to focus on the things that are really more important.
Ted Simons: When the superintendent of public instruction came out with this response that everyone has been quoting, including us here quite a bit, are there things you agree with her on? The idea of charter schools having a little too much impact, and not enough funding for schools? That's what she was saying.
Katie Hobbs: Sure. I wondered which Democratic operative wrote her press release, some parts of it, at least. I don't know that I would have thrown it out in that manner. Certainly there were things I agreed with. she's been really clear from Day One, her agenda is to get rid of common core. And this is kind of throwing another obstacle that they said that.
Ted Simons: Did she have points you agreed with?
Eric Meyer: Yeah, we're underfunding our schools. We've made over $4 billion in cuts in the last six years and it's time to begin restoring those. We're at a point in our state where we have lots of charter schools without a lot of oversight or a plan moving forward. We have hundreds of charter schools opening up right next door to our neighborhood school, is that the best use of our tax dollars. I think people are starting to think and question. When we have tight budgetary times, we want to make sure we're spending our dollars and getting the biggest bang for our buck.
Ted Simons: With all that in mind, is the superintendent someone that Democrats can work with?
Eric Meyer: Well, we'll have to assessment it's funny, I sit on appropriations committee, as well. Her team came to testify but she didn't say a word. Michael Bradley testified for her, which is unusual, at least in the time I've been on the appropriations committee. My hope is we're always willing to meet and move forward. If we can find shared things we can do to make the state a better place for our kids, we're definitely open to that.
Ted Simons: What do you think about that, working with the Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction?
Katie Hobbs: She has not reached out to my caucus for support but we'd be happy to work with her on any areas that are shared.
Ted Simons: What do you think about the Governor firing the DCS and getting a new guy in charge?
Katie Hobbs: It was surprising. And I've been an advocate for consistency. This is a young agency and staying the course is probably the best. But that's not in my purview to decide. So I think that the mission of the agency is so critical that we just need to work together and make sure that they are able to do what they are supposed to do. I'm looking forward working with director McKay and making sure DCS has the resources they need to keep our kids safe.
Ted Simons: When the governor says they need a new direction and new focus, do you agree?
Katie Hobbs: I did not necessarily agree with that choice. Again, it wasn't mine to make. We need to work with what's there and make sure that he's successful.
Ted Simons: Do you think that was a good move by the governor?
Eric Meyer: The agency is brand-new, director Flanigan had just been there a little over a year. He's been very engaged and started to make steps in the right direction upgrading the technology so the agency could be more responsive, beginning to invest in preventive services that keep kids out of the system. He worked through the entire backlog that was there he had been making progress. From everything we had heard at the legislature, he was doing a good job. I don't know what Governor Ducey based his decision on but he changed that at a very early time in the course of that agency. My hope that is this new director can continue down that path. And for our caucus I think it's critical that we invest in those preventive services. Other states have seen numbers of kids entering the system and kids in foster care dropped. Arizona's still seeing them go up so we need to turn that corner.
Ted Simons: Regarding the foster care situation, do you think too many kids are being removed from homes?
Katie Hobbs: Yes, absolutely. We've seen an increase. But I don't know where you can point the finger on that. DCS is a brand-new agency and six months is a very short time to turn around some of the issues they were dealing with.So I don't know where the issues there lie, yes, it's a high number and we should be concerned about it.
Ted Simons: Are you concerned about that?
Eric Meyer: Oh, absolutely. We do know that investment in preventive services that keep parents -- give parents the ability to have child care, that give parents the ability to feed their kids, a chance to get off drugs and alcohol. We know that if we just invest in those programs, we'd see the numbers drop. We just need to make that commitment and move in that direction.
Ted Simons: We also know if we keep kids in those homes too long you know what breaks loose. There's a balancing act there, correct?
Katie Hobbs: It's not a fun one. They have a critical mission and we need to make sure they have the resources to make the right choices.
Ted Simons: All right, thank you both. Good to see you both again.
Eric Meyer: Absolutely. Thank you.
Katie Hobbs:Senate Minority Leader; Eric Meyer:House Minority Leader;